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Human Capital and Development

Lessons and Insights from Korea's Transformation

Ju-Ho Lee, Hyeok Jeong and Song Chang Hong

During recent decades, Korea has been one of only a handful of countries that have made the successful transformation to become a developed nation by simultaneously achieving persistent economic growth combined with a democratic political system. Experts and political leaders worldwide have attributed this achievement to investments in people or, in other words, the power of education. Whilst numerous books have highlighted the role of industrial policies, technological growth, and international trade in Korea’s development process, this is one of the first to focus on the role of human capital. It shows how the accumulation of human capital aided transformation and helps explain the policies, strategies and challenges that Korea faces now and in the future.
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Chapter 4: Turning around failing vocational high schools

Ju-Ho Lee, Hyeok Jeong and Song Chang Hong


In the previous chapter, we suggested the need for education diversification reform, which includes policies to improve the quality of education, particularly in vocational skills and social and emotional skills, as well as policies aimed at enhancing the quality of university education while easing the exit of low-quality universities. The Meister High School was the key policy of the education diversification reform. Vocational high schools in Korea have continuously deteriorated since their glory days in the 1970s, and such change seems to be one of the leading causes behind the education bubble. An important reason why Korean parents spent the enormous expense on private tutoring and the tuition fees of low-quality universities for their children was that vocational high schools could not guarantee good jobs for the graduates. Hence, the vocational education track was not a good alternative to the general education track to universities. However, Korea’s industries have continuously asked for stronger vocational and technical education because many graduates of low-quality universities are not equipped with adequate skills and not ready to work in occupations that once were filled by graduates of vocational high schools. Therefore, Meister High Schools, which not only cater to the needs of industries but also provide students and parents with an alternative to low-quality universities, are expected to burst the education bubble.

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